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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 17
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The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.

CHAPTER IV.

We cannot doubt that one in whom loyalty was so deep and fixed a principle as Bunyan, would welcome with sincere thankfulness the termination of the miserable interval of anarchy which followed the death of the Protector and the abdication of his indolent and feeble son, by the restoration of monarchy in the person of Charles the Second. Even if some forebodings might have arisen that with the restoration of the old monarchy the old persecuting laws might be revived, which made it criminal for a man to think for himself in the matters which most nearly concerned his eternal interests, and to worship in the way which he found most helpful to his spiritual life, they would have been silenced by the promise, contained in Charles's "Declaration from Breda," of liberty to tender consciences, and the assurance that no one should be disquieted for differences of opinion in religion, so long as such differences did not endanger the peace and well-being of the realm. If this declaration meant anything, it meant a breadth of toleration larger and more liberal than had been ever granted by Cromwell. Any fears of the renewal of persecution must be groundless.

But if such dreams of religious liberty were entertained they were speedily and rudely dispelled, and Bunyan was one of the first to feel the shock of the awakening. The promise was coupled with a reference to the "mature deliberation of Parliament." With such a promise Charles's easy conscience was relieved of all responsibility. Whatever he might promise, the nation, and Parliament which was its mouthpiece, might set his promise aside. And if he knew anything of the temper of the people he was returning to govern, he must have felt assured that any scheme of comprehension was certain to be rejected by them. As Mr. Froude has said, "before toleration is possible, men must have learnt to tolerate toleration," and this was a lesson the English nation was very far from having learnt; at no time, perhaps, were they further from it. Puritanism had had its day, and had made itself generally detested. Deeply enshrined as it was in many earnest and devout hearts, such as Bunyan's, it was necessarily the religion not of the many, but of the few; it was the religion not of the common herd, but of a spiritual aristocracy. Its stern condemnation of all mirth and pastime, as things in their nature sinful, of which we have so many evidences in Bunyan's own writings; its repression of all that makes life brighter and more joyous, and the sour sanctimoniousness which frowned upon innocent relaxation, had rendered its yoke unbearable to ordinary human nature, and men took the earliest opportunity of throwing the yoke off and trampling it under foot. They hailed with rude and boisterous rejoicings the restoration of the Monarchy which they felt, with a true instinct, involved the restoration of the old Church of England, the church of their fathers and of the older among themselves, with its larger indulgence for the instincts of humanity, its wider comprehensiveness, and its more dignified and decorous ritual.

The reaction from Puritanism pervaded all ranks. In no class, however, was its influence more powerful than among the country gentry. Most of them had been severe sufferers both in purse and person during the Protectorate. Fines and sequestrations had fallen heavily upon them, and they were eager to retaliate on their oppressors. Their turn had come; can we wonder that they were eager to use it? As Mr. J. R. Green has said: "The Puritan, the Presbyterian, the Commonwealthsman, all were at their feet. . . Their whole policy appeared to be dictated by a passionate spirit of reaction. . . The oppressors of the parson had been the oppressors of the squire. The sequestrator who had driven the one from his parsonage had driven the other from his manor-house. Both had been branded with the same charge of malignity. Both had suffered together, and the new Parliament was resolved that both should triumph together."

The feeling thus eloquently expressed goes far to explain the harshness which Bunyan experienced at the hands of the administrators of justice at the crisis of his life at which we have now arrived. Those before whom he was successively arraigned belonged to this very class, which, having suffered most severely during the Puritan usurpation, was least likely to show consideration to a leading teacher of the Puritan body. Nor were reasons wanting to justify their severity. The circumstances of the times were critical. The public mind was still in an excitable state, agitated by the wild schemes of political and religious enthusiasts plotting to destroy the whole existing framework both of Church and State, and set up their own chimerical fabric. We cannot be surprised that, as Southey has said, after all the nation had suffered from fanatical zeal, "The government, rendered suspicious by the constant sense of danger, was led as much by fear as by resentment to seventies which are explained by the necessities of self-defence," and which the nervous apprehensions of the nation not only condoned, but incited. Already Churchmen in Wales had been taking the law into their own hands, and manifesting their orthodoxy by harrying Quakers and Nonconformists. In the May and June of this year, we hear of sectaries being taken from their beds and haled to prison, and brought manacled to the Quarter Sessions and committed to loathsome dungeons. Matters had advanced since then. The Church had returned in its full power and privileges together with the monarchy, and everything went back into its old groove. Every Act passed for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church was declared a dead letter. Those of the ejected incumbents who remained alive entered again into their parsonages, and occupied their pulpits as of old; the surviving bishops returned to their sees; and the whole existing statute law regarding the Church revived from its suspended animation.

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